At a national conference on tackling flood disasters in Nigeria, organised by TELL, experts paint a grim picture of Nigeria’s environmental future while calling on governments at all levels to be proactive
The picture is scary and grim. But it was not only intended to scare people. Rather, it was meant to be a call to action. Delivering a paper titled, Mitigating Coastal Disasters in Nigeria, at a one-day national conference on tackling flood disasters in Nigeria organised by TELL, in conjunction with the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA and the Lagos State Government, Regina Folorunsho, assistant director, Geology/Geophysics, Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research, NIOMR, said most parts of the country now experience rainfall in three digits on a regular basis rather than two digits as had been the case before now.
“The 257mm of rainfall experienced in just one day, on July 10, 2011, tells us a lot. This is just the beginning of our climate change issues. You cannot quantify the amount of money the country lost that day because a lot of economic activities were grounded. While there is a lot of erosion going on in the Niger Delta, about 15-20mm annually,” Folorunsho said. She added that the storm surges that have been witnessed in parts of Victoria Island and Lekki, both in Lagos, as well as in Bonny Camp and Brass in Rivers State, are pointers that a lot of erosion was going on in the country’s coastal states and called on the authorities to do something urgent about it.
Folorunsho also mentioned shipwrecks as another factor in the increasing erosion in the Lekki area of Lagos State. The damming of rivers in Nigeria and West Africa in general is one major anthropogenic factor, which accelerates coastal erosion. While the entire 853 kilometres of the entire Nigerian coastline, which is low-lying, would also be adversely affected by the rise in sea levels, she added.
The environmental expert also explained how rapid development and population growth in coastal areas in Nigeria, plus the resulting increase in socio-economic activities directed at the unsustainable exploitation of coastal resources could be accelerating coastal disasters such as erosion, flooding, oil spills and storm surges – which displaced many residents in some parts of Lekki such as Goshen Estate, Alpha Beach, Maiyegun among others.
It is this depressing forecast that has made NEMA to enhance its early warning flood system through active collaboration with the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, NIMET, and other ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs. Muhammad Sidi, director-general, NEMA, said this much in his opening remarks at the conference. Floods, he noted, are among the most devastating natural disasters in the world and has claimed more lives and caused more property damage than any other natural phenomena. This was buttressed by statistics, which showed that floods were only second to epidemic as the major killer in the country. “In Nigeria, though not leading in terms of claiming lives, floods affect and displaces more people than any other hazard; it also causes more damage to properties. At least 20 per cent of the population is at risk from one form of flooding or another,” Sidi said.
He added that the agency has developed relevant procedures, plans, systems and guidelines for flood management such as the National Disaster Response Plan, Search and Rescue and Epidemic Evacuation Plan SAREEP, National Contingency Plan and Lake Nyos Response Manual. Coordinating search and rescue, delivering relief assistance to affected population, aiding rehabilitation through distribution of building materials to affected population and the use of space based information for disaster management and emergency response are also some structures the agency has put in place. He also added that the media, humanitarian organisations and government (policymakers) are the significant ‘crisis triangle’ in modern day disaster management. “The media has become a major humanitarian actor in its own right, helping to frame the context in which governments formulate policy and humanitarian action is mounted,” he noted.
Perhaps playing the role outlined by Sidi, Nosa Igiebor, editor-in-chief, TELL, seized the occasion to criticise the country’s nonchalant culture in tackling floods and other environmental disasters. “We don’t have a culture of taking proactive actions against such when it would have been better to prevent them than to react. The ocean would not serve a notice when it decides to take over a place like Victoria Island (for example). We should alert the Nigerian authorities that it is time they paid serious attention to protecting our environment,” Igiebor said and pointed out some countries like Japan and Indonesia, which were overwhelmed by the tsunami disaster and earthquake. “No country was as prepared as Japan in managing disasters. If they were overwhelmed, imagine what would happen if Nigeria had a disaster of such magnitude… It’s not like we don’t have experts, but we are in a country that does not take action until something happens,” he said.
And he sure had good reasons to make such calls. Listening to experts like Folorunsho, not a few would want governments at local, state and federal government to take proactive steps, especially since she had noted that the country may have only 30 minutes to react if there was a serious earthquake in the Cameroun, for example while adding that Nigeria should never conclude that it could not be prone to a tsunami. “More than 51 million people in the coastal areas are in harm’s way,” she added.
For Tunji Bello, the Lagos State commissioner for environment, who delivered a paper on The Imperative of Evolving, Nurturing and Sustaining Disaster Management at the State Level: The Lagos State Example, the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA, was established to tackle issues such as these. However he stated that the presence of only one commodore channel in the state – which occupies 187 kilometres of the country’s 853 kilometres coastal length – affects the discharge of water into the Atlantic Ocean, the more reason why the state plans to dredge more of the Lagos creeks, as well as improve the state of canals and water channels across the state.
Bello also hinted that Lagos is working in tandem with Ogun and Oyo states to make effective use of their shared canal systems. He added that the establishment of climate change clubs in public secondary schools is one method the state government is using to educate and mobilise youths on how to protect their environment. Bello also explained that, aside from providing a new settlement area to thousands and boosting the state’s tourism potential, the ambitious Eko Atlantic City project was also designed as a form of flood control system in the Island area.
That statement was however a point of disagreement for Hans de Brabander, deputy head of mission/head, Economic Department of the Kingdom of the Netherlands who noted that despite being a fine piece of engineering, the Eko Atlantic City was not primarily built to solve the problem of flooding. To solve the problem of flooding, de Brabander said the state’s drainage system needed to be improved on. He argued that this was necessary because there is a lot of garbage blocking the flow of water. “This has nothing to do with the sea level rise. The system needs to be kept open to prevent flooding of the streets, it’s something we should also note,” de Brabander said.
In his paper titled, A Veritable Approach to Understanding the Challenges in Disaster-prone Coastal Zones; The Netherlands Models, de Brabander explained that the Netherlands, which is 12 times smaller than Nigeria, has the world’s largest flooding control project and the central government had been able to finance the huge project for many years through the revenue from the country’s oil and gas reserves. “The Nigerian government should do more in terms of investing in health care and building better infrastructure as a responsibility to the welfare of the people. We are looking for clever public and private partnership. But it starts with the responsibility of government to use their revenue for the basic needs of the country,” he noted.
Best Ordinioha, a doctor in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, College of Health Science, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, broke down the health effects of flooding in his paper, which stated that the higher the number of vulnerable persons like children, the elderly and the disabled in a community, the more the health problems associated with flooding. “Very important infrastructure such as health, school and water facilities need to be built to withstand the damaging effects of flood, as they are important in the rescue effort,” he said.
Although Ordinioha is one person who believes that climate change and flooding are signs of the end times, he however added that workshops such as the one organised by TELL ought to be encouraged in order for humanity to be able to buy more time. “The good thing is that we can actually buy time and do something about it,” he said.